Asma Maroof, better known as Asmara, is one of L.A.’s favorite club DJs, recognized for her dynamic, genre-blending sets that crisscross electronic music, rap, Top 40 and dancehall, as well as her special edits of familiar and obscure hip-hop and R&B songs.
She is one half of the DJ-producer duo Nguzunguzu (with partner Daniel Pineda), a member of the noted Fade to Mind label and collective, and a former resident at the raucous weeknight queer party Mustache Mondays.
Asmara toured with M.I.A. as the grime superstar’s opening DJ, and she has performed everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the MTV Video Music Awards. Her debut solo EP, Let Ting Go, was released in 2017. (Asmara formerly went by the moniker DJ MA.)
“My family is Indian,” says Asmara, who caught up with L.A. Weekly by phone for this interview while she was visiting family in Maryland earlier this month. “My parents moved here from Mumbai and they both worked at NASA.”
Asked about her musical upbringing, Asmara explains, “I went to art school from kindergarten to 12th grade. I was really into visual art for most of my life, but in college, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is when I started experimenting with sound and just being really into improvisation.
“I started going to a lot of noise shows and thinking, 'Wow, you can really just experiment and it’s not really about your skill set necessarily.' That was a great entry point for me, and when I fell in love with that music and electronic music, I just couldn’t get enough.
“I always loved music regardless of my training. From a young age I remember all the rap songs, all the R&B songs. I remember when Puff Daddy was doing all of his stuff with artists referencing older songs. I remember listening to the oldies stations when I was young and thinking, 'Oh, that’s the sample!' Wanting to know what the samples were also fed into my DJing passion, which came later, when I moved to L.A. and started playing at Wildness. That’s when I was like, 'Oh, I can actually do this. This isn’t something that just boys do.'”
Reflecting more on Wildness, Asmara says, “It was held in MacArthur Park at Silver Platter. It was a weekly party on Tuesdays that me and Daniel Pineda, Total Freedom and Wu Tsang did all together. We would have performances and just like a dance party. And Silver Platter was like a transgender bar. It was a great, great time and an inspiring time. We had amazing performers come through and we kind of built our sound, I feel like, in that time.”
On Saturday, Aug. 25, Asmara will be one of the featured performers at LACMA’s after-hours Muse ’til Midnight event. “I always love the intersection between art and music,” she says. “That’s my background. I feel like I can be a little more experimental with what I play, and I think it’s exciting being in a museum and dancing.”
Asmara will be joined at LACMA by co-headliners Visible Cloaks — the Portland, Oregon–based duo of Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile, whose dance music draws from Fourth World, the concept of transforming world music using modern technologies — and Jacques Greene, a well-known Montreal-born, Toronto-based house DJ-producer.
Other performances include a live A/V show from Chinese-American leftfield techno DJ-producer One Child Policy, a sonic and visual experience from L.A. dance label 100% Silk founder Callie Ryan, music from DJ-producer and visual artist Low Limit, an immersive screening by kyttenjanae with a live score by Philip Rugo, and a funk and soul DJ set from Dublab’s Mamabear. (Muse ’til Midnight is co-hosted by Dublab.)
A quadrophonic sound installation will feature four-speaker immersive playback of electronic music pioneer Suzanne Cianni’s recent Buchla modular synthesizer piece Live Quadraphonic and Sun Ra’s 1973 avant-garde jazz masterwork Space Is the Place, recently recovered tapes from Ed Michael’s Impulse! Records archives, a field recording piece from Dublab DJ George Jenson, original compositions from $3.33 and Lucky Dragons, and visuals by Alex Pelly.
Muse ’til Midnight (18+; $20 for museum members, $30 for non-members) also includes access to LACMA’s special exhibits 3-D: Double Vision; Hidden Narratives: Recent Acquisitions of Postwar Art; Creatures of the Earth, Sea and Sky: Painting the Panamanian Cosmos; and Picturing the Masses: Germany 1900-1938; as well the museum’s permanent collections of modern art and European painting and sculpture.